Fertility doctor allegedly swapped donated sperm with his own
Twelve people conceived at clinic near Rotterdam say facility director is their father
A lawsuit in the Netherlands alleges the director of a fertility clinic is the biological father of 12 children conceived at the clinic. Photograph: The Irish Times
Twelve people who were conceived with sperm from a Dutch fertility centre have filed a lawsuit claiming that its longtime director is their biological father, and that over several decades, he swapped donors’ sperm with his own.
The 12 people, and 10 mothers who suspect that their children were conceived using the clinic director’s sperm, filed a lawsuit on Friday asking a court in Rotterdam to give them access to the DNA of the clinic director, Dr Jan Karbaat, who died last month at 89.
“I’m hoping that the judge will allow us to extract the DNA so we can use it to find out if we are his children,” one plaintiff, Moniek Wassenaar (36), said in an interview. The 12 people are 8-36 years old. Some of the 10 mothers in the suit conceived children who are still minors. From 1980 to 2009, Dr Karbaat ran a sperm bank in the rear of his stately yellow brick house in the Bijdorp section of Schiedam, near Rotterdam. He became well known in the field of assisted reproduction. About 10,000 children are estimated to have been conceived at the clinic.
The clinic closed under a cloud, and a government commission concluded in 2015 that its record keeping was so poor that none of the donors’ identities could be deemed reliable under the law. Not long after, the plaintiffs began preparing their case, but Dr Karbaat died before it could be filed.
They now want the authorities to release items, like a toothbrush and a nose-hair trimmer, that were taken from Dr Karbaat’s home soon after his death, even though he specified in his will that his DNA samples not be taken.
The lawsuit is an important step in an evolving scandal that has given much fodder for the Dutch news media but also raised troubling questions about medical oversight in the Netherlands, a wealthy nation known for progressive attitudes on issues like same-sex marriage and euthanasia.
In 2009, Dr Karbaat’s clinic was required to close after it did not meet storage standards. Rumours of impropriety began to circulate after a genetic test on two children conceived at the clinic found that they were only biological half siblings, not full siblings, as their mother had been told.
Dr Wassenaar, a psychiatrist, became aware of her possible genetic relationship with Dr Karbaat several years ago, when an anonymous tipster pointed out the family resemblance after seeing a photograph of her that was published with a newspaper article describing her quest to learn the identity of her biological father.
She visited Dr Karbaat - then in his mid 80s - and the meeting was friendly, she said, adding that Dr Karbaat admitted that he probably was her biological father.
“He said, ‘Let me see your hands; you could be a kid of mine,’” Dr Wassenaar said, recalling shared traits like their large hands and mouth, high forehead and high cheekbones. She said he seemed to have no qualms about the deception. She asked Dr Karbaat to agree to a DNA test, but he declined, and she decided to let the matter drop. She said her feelings about the matter had changed when she learned that other people were trying to find out if Dr Karbaat was their biological father.
Laura Bosch, a lawyer with Defense for Children, a Switzerland-based organization that advocates children’s rights, helped prepare the lawsuit. She said she hoped to draw attention to a larger issue: the right of children conceived through assisted reproduction to have certainty about their parentage.
“We argue that the children who are donor-conceived have the same right as all the other children in society,” she said. “We created a case where the right to know your parents is central.” Reached by phone, Lisette de Haan, a lawyer who represents Dr Karbaat’s widow, said that her client had decided not to speak publicly about the litigation.
Identities of donors
In addition to the grave ethical concerns, the issue highlights a shortage of donor sperm in the Netherlands.
A 1996 law banning the payment of medical donors is a major reason sperm is relatively scarce in the country. In 2004, the Netherlands passed legislation requiring that the identities of donors be made available to children conceived using their sperm when the children turn 16 — a factor that has discouraged potential donors, according to Dr Sjoerd Repping, head of the Center for Reproductive Medicine at the University of Amsterdam Academic Medical Center.
As a result of that law, Dr Karbaat told Volkskrant, a major daily newspaper, in 2004 the number of donors plummeted. “I just ran an ad for donors, and I got zero responses,” he said at the time.
To avoid waiting lists, some Dutch women travel south to Belgium, where donations may remain anonymous in perpetuity. Other Dutch women order sperm from banks in Denmark, where donors are paid and the supply is greater.
Dr Wassenaar said that for her, certainty was the most important issue.
“I think I’m his biological child, and I hope I get that confirmation,” she said. “I hope I was right to trust my gut.”
New York Times